Newsom Campaign Fires Back Against Critics Who Claim He's Ignoring Latinos

A conference call on August 10 featured labor leaders and progressive groups discussing the state of Gavin Newsom's recall campaign, and the language used to describe the state of the campaign alarmed Democrats on the call.

A recording of the call obtained by Newsweek begins with the lead speaker saying it is "horrifying" that a recent poll shows Newsom within the margin of error in the race. The call, which included dozens of participants and groups like Indivisible and California Calls, painted a picture of a stunned Democratic and progressive infrastructure that was scrambling to plug holes in Newsom's operation ahead of a rapidly approaching September 14 election date.

"Elderly voters they think they can stop the recall from happening," the lead speaker said. "That's how bad the messaging is."

And in a somewhat surprising turn, the same speaker reminded activists and progressives on the call that California has been there for them in the past and it's time to return the favor.

"We need your help now," she said.

A Nevada speaker responded that the Silver State will help, and the original lead speaker said they poured a lot of energy into Arizona and the hope was that Arizona will help as well. Another progressive leader, taking in the tenor of the call, responded by saying they were "shocked" by what they were hearing and remarked that Democrats have been "caught flat-footed."

When it came to questions about organizing and outreach aimed at Latino voters, organizers of the call were receptive to the question, but said they were unaware of the problem and would look into it further.

"They hadn't thought about it," one incredulous call participant told Newsweek.

If that's the case, it's a big problem for Democrats not only in California but nationally, as they see both promise and peril with Latino voters for Newsom, and worry that his support has deteriorated since his 2018 win when he secured two-thirds of the Hispanic vote.

Recent polls have shown support for the recall growing among Latinos, with 40% supporting it in a July Berkeley IGS Poll and 50% supporting it in a CBS News poll conducted from August 6 to 12.

The pandemic has disproportionately affected Latinos in California, where they comprise 40% of the state's population, but make up 55% of COVID-19 cases and more than 45% of deaths from the virus.

"They've been working their asses off on the frontlines from farmworkers, to the cashier at the supermarket, while white people got the vaccine first and were able to stay home," said Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo. "You want to talk about two different California's, we felt it."

That type of resentment was common among those who spoke to Newsweek, and it has led to a sense of foreboding about the race and the role Latinos will play in Newsom's eventual fate.

"I've had a number of conversations with national Democrats trying to figure out what to do if Newsom loses and Latinos are blamed," a Democratic strategist told Newsweek.

But the Newsom campaign told Newsweek it isn't worried about Latino outreach, and has confidence in a robust field campaign it is calling "unprecedented" in California politics.

They made campaign manager Juan Rodriguez and Lindsay Hopkins, who is running the coordinated campaign and directing field efforts, available to discuss the state of Latino outreach within an hour of Newsweek's request.

They said that the current budget specifically focused on the Latino segment of the target universe is "north" of $6 million, a major portion of a total campaign budget that Rodriguez put at over $10 million. Of the $6 million targeted for Latinos, $2 million is going towards field efforts, which includes door knocking with masks and safety protocols in place.

It also includes $1 million for constituency outreach investment in specific groups, as well as $2 million for phone calls and $1 million for distributed organizing.

When it comes to mail, labor and the campaign are each doing a mailer, while Voto Latino is sending its own round, alongside phone-banking and texting.

On any given day, campaign leadership said, there are 15,000 people signed up for shifts and 5,000 people in Slack channels, all working to stop the recall of Newsom in its tracks.

But the scope of the challenge of reaching Latinos is daunting in sprawling California, a state with 8 million Latino voters, more than the entire population of the state of Arizona.

Rodriguez, who served as campaign manager for the presidential bid of Kamala Harris, recalled that other recent California campaigns had budgets far greater than Newsom's. the Prop 22 campaign spent $200 million. In fact, they spent more than Newsom's total budget in just the last two weeks of that campaign.

Another campaign Rodriguez worked on spent $100 million. He said they exceeded Newsom's entire spending budget in just the last three weeks of that campaign.

But the campaign argues that although a candidate could have more resources than Newsom, his field program is better than those of his predecessors.

Democrats in the state are fervently hoping his campaign is right.

"If you want to talk about Latinos, you have to educate us on our porch, that's the silver bullet, education and persuasion," Trujillo said of the hard work of making multiple voter contacts, particularly during an unrelenting global pandemic.

He and other Democrats who spoke with Newsweek said there is another problem with the recall election: The date.

Americans have "muscle memory" to vote in November, even in an off-year. But after a sleepy summer, the September 14 date means many reliable Democratic voters are simply unaware the election is barreling down on them.

That point was hammered home to one California Democrat who told Newsweek they remarked to a Newsom campaign staff member that they didn't know when the election is.

"You and every other Californian," a staffer responded.

Rodriguez agreed the calendar is a reason the campaign needs to "dramatically scale up," telling Newsweek that until June there was still a debate of whether the election would be held in November or in September. From a mechanics perspective those are dramatically different time sets, he said, of figuring out how to do a cost-effective field program, while recognizing the complexity of outreach to millions of Latinos.

"I say this with great pride as a Latino, like other groups, we're not homogenous, not a monolith," Rodriguez said. "Latinos in east L.A. are different than in the Central Valley."

The challenge in a compressed time period, he added, is to make Latinos aware of the date and scale up quicker than any other race statewide, while being aware of the complexities of COVID.

For example, the days of gathering 10,000 people in a room to fan energy and enthusiasm are gone.

"There are limitations, we're not living in a world of Greg Abbott," he said of the Republican Texas Governor who flouted mask mandates at public events and contracted COVID-19.

Latino Democrats who spoke with Newsweek almost unanimously mentioned a Los Angeles Times column this week by Gustavo Arellano titled "Sorry, Democrats — Latino anger toward Republicans isn't enough to save Newsom's political hide."

The column argues that "Democrats learned to love the angry Latino voter and used our power to take over Sacramento," but now are leaning on lazy outreach efforts appealing to fear over Trumpian politics and anger at the Republicans behind the recall efforts.

Newsom recently described Larry Elder, the conservative talk radio host who could replace him, as "to the right of Donald Trump," Arellano wrote.

Newsom's ads have followed suit.

An ad featuring the first Latino Senator in California's history, Alex Padilla, who only has the seat vacated by Vice President Kamala Harris because Newsom appointed him, focuses on Republicans.

Speaking to the camera in Spanish, Padilla says, "Trump's Republicans, who don't accept the outcome of the presidential election, are attacking our democracy all over the country. Now, they've focused on California by spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to remove Governor Newsom, and we have to stop them."

A second ad asks who is behind the recall attempt against Newsom.

"The same Republicans that don't accept the results of the presidential election," the ad says, adding that the creator of the recall wrote a Facebook post that said "Microchip all illegal immigrants. It works! Just ask Animal control!"

Javier Gonzalez, the former political director of a janitors' union and organizer of historic immigration marches in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, also worked on the recall election of Gray Davis.

He said the biggest problem is that "white liberals continue to try to motivate Latinos through fear," comparing it to union leaders who instead of saying "Let's go march for your family's health care, wages, and to buy a decent home," say "if you don't march the company will crush you."

Asked to respond, Rodriguez said he tries not to be a pundit, and acknowledged Arellano made good points in the column. But he said the pandemic has disproportionately impacted Latinos, who had an "incredibly challenging experience during Trump's tenure."

"I get his point, you can't just focus on being angry, in this environment it has to be the sum of all its parts," he said. "The ads we see right now are a combination of research and also the recognition that it is important, as we make people aware of this election, what is at stake if a Larry Elder would get elected."

California veteran political operative Mike Madrid, a co-founder of the Republican-led Lincoln Project who ran its 2020 data operation to oust Donald Trump before leaving the group after the election, said polls showing growing support for Newsom to be recalled may be flawed because of how difficult it is to poll Latinos in California without huge sample sizes. Republicans can try to peel off Latinos, he said, but are losing "dramatically" with white suburban women.

"Looking at the pure math, I would rather be Gavin Newsom at this point in time, though that could change in the last month," he told Newsweek. "You would have to have a historic over-performance of turnout among Republicans coupled with a historic drop in Democratic turnout for this even to be close."

Despite the criticism, Gonzalez is in charge of a "No" on recall campaign for the SEIU Local 99 school employees, which number 20,000 Californians.

He said speaking honestly is working, with over 90% supporting the campaign and a message that says in essence, "No one did a great job on the pandemic, but Newsom got his sh** together and made things better, so why would we start over right now?"

But recalling an old union saying, he had a warning for campaigns that scramble to right the ship weeks before a critical election.

"If you keep heading where you're headed," he said, "you're going to get where you're going."

solid and gavin newsom
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis and California Governor Gavin Newsom attend California Governor Gavin Newsom's press conference for the official reopening of the state of California at Universal Studios Hollywood on June 15, 2021 in Universal City, California. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images